Even with one of their biggest performances of the year just hours away, the members of Elon’s Finest dance team took to the stage to laugh with their friends. Each in matching Adidas track pants and tank tops, the hip-hop dancers began a final run-through, adjusting their angles and spacing before welcoming one of the largest audiences they’ve seen.
According to senior Jamie Bottino, president of Elon’s Finest, the team was founded in 1991 with a small group of dancers and one choreographer for all routines. But in only two years, she and her team have changed that structure entirely to make the team more collaborative.
Each of the performances' five dances were choreographed by a different team member, many of whom have been dancing their whole lives and wanted to continue doing so in college. Sophomore Emma Singletary is no exception.
"I joined Elon's Finest because I've danced my whole life, so I wanted to keep dancing, and everyone on campus talked really highly of them, so I decided to audition," Singletary said.
Bottino, who’s been dancing since she was three years old, said Elon’s Finest is different than other teams she’s been part of, which is partially due to the lack of emphasis on competition.
“A lot of times, on a lot of dance teams and dance classes in general, it's a pretty competitive hobby. You kind of fight for the center stage, you kind of fight to be the star, and this team is absolutely not like that," Bottino said. "We are in full support of each other, and it's just a wonderful environment where you can just dance and have a good time.”
Bottino compared Elon's Finest to Elon's Dance Team. “We're a little less intense with the way that we practice and how we practice, so we're not as meticulous about everybody being on the same beat, we're a lot about expressing yourself and your style through the dance.”
That freeform nature translates into the team’s performance schedule too. Botino said that though Elon’s Finest hosts an annual fall and spring performance, the team performs in smaller events throughout the semester.
Freshman Clancy Erickson decided to audition after watching the dancers perform at the hypnotist show last August. Senior Shelby Rosenberg attributes the team’s rise in recognition to the same event.
“It's changed over the years. I think this year, because of the hypnotist, we got a lot of people recognizing us more. As I said, I'm a senior, so I feel like this year is the most recognition we've gotten this early on," Rosenberg said. "We usually get it more in the spring because we've been doing more stuff. So I feel like this year, there's going to be more people [in the audience] than ever, which is terrifying.”
Preparing for a performance can be both time- and energy-consuming. According to senior Natalia Valdivia, the team runs extra rehearsals in the weeks leading up to a show. Each dance is run several times to build stamina, which leaves them all sweating by the end of the night.
Because of their bond, several team members agreed the real challenge is focusing on their dances without interruption.
“I think we are a very talkative and goofy team, so sometimes at practice, we have a hard time focusing, but it’s not the worst challenge to have. I just think we get distracted easily,” Erickson said.
Along with facilitating extra practices, Bottino mentioned that there are "a lot of elements that go into it on the administrative side. You know you have to reserve the space and get the lights and all that stuff.”
But once the lights are set and rehearsals are run, Rosenberg worries about impressing the crowd.
“I feel so much pressure. I get so scared before performing, and before I get on, I'm terrified, and as I'm on stage, I love it. So it's just like, I've got to get there, but when the music starts, I'm good. But before that, I'm freaking out. My friends are here, and I want to entertain,” Rosenberg said. “Definitely the stress of the show can be apparent in practice with just little snippy things sometimes, but it's nothing in the grand scheme of it all.”
To combat the stress backstage, the dancers focus on getting each other excited to show off their skills.
“We're literally best friends,” Rosenberg said. “And I would do anything for these people, and I feel like other teams on campus, they're close, but these people are my life. They're my everything.”